Ryan Gray’s Beneath The Skin Travels a Dark, Compelling Path

How far would you go in search of the truth? How well do we know our limits, our boundaries that keep us from being consumed by a hungry darkness? Ryan Gray explores these questions in Beneath The Skin, a thriller/mystery that boldly ventures into the abyss.

Directed by Jenna Rodgers, Gray’s Beneath The Skin stages reporter Carmin Morgan’s (Justine Westby) exclusive interview with convicted murderer Colton Cassio (Justin Michael Carriere), better known as the Portrait Killer. Colton’s long violent history – a history that started at a young age – fascinates Carmin who will stop at nothing to learn as much as she can about him and his victims. Carmin quickly learns, however, that is just not Colton’s crimes that make him a dangerous man, but also his charisma which threatens to take her down a path she never intended to travel.

The focus of Carmin’s interview is centered around Erin (Claire Bolton), Colton’s first victim whom he fell deeply in love with. Via flashbacks, the audience sees how an awkward 20-year-old Colton (Jacob Lesiuk) eventually came to befriend and then murder Erin while away at university.

Gray skillfully creates tension between Colton and Carmin by rarely letting one person hold power too long between them. While Carmin sees herself locked in a game of wits against Colton, Colton sees the two engaged in a more emotional game, a game of wills. And that is what makes Colton so dangerous, he has nothing to lose; he has given himself over to the darkness that calls him inside. Yet, victory is not so assured, Colton comes to realize, as Carmin’s determination for the truth reveals itself to be something more than a professional obligation.

Colton and Erin’s young love, though sometimes a bit too sweet, is crafted very well by Gray. There is a certain sadness in knowing Erin’s eventual fate, but never dulled anticipation. The interplay between the past and present delivers just enough information to maintain our attention. And then, Gray hits the audience with the inevitable which is both very creative and disturbing. (The audience gasps in horror as the scene becomes obvious).

Where the production fails the script is in its blocking. Noticeably challenged by the limited space available inside the Motel Theatre, the rising tension of the play breaks periodically when Carriere and Westby have to stand and carry the table and their seats to the side in order to make way for a flashback scene, sometimes while fully lit. The whole business seriously throws off the established atmosphere.

Despite the proximity of the audience to the actors (the Motel Theatre has a 50 seat capacity), there is no warning for the audience about the use of live smoke. The sudden inhalation of cigarette smoke distracts from the play’s dramatic conclusion.

Carriere and Westby are truly a force together. Carriere displays an unsettling, yet alluring confidence that make very real the presence of danger, to which Westby responds to with an exhilarating tenacity. Westby is truly firm in her character’s resolve, and that makes her performance all the more exciting to watch.

Bolton and Lesiuk share a pleasant chemistry on stage. Bolton is very easy to like as the cheery, good-natured Claire. Lesiuk plays the young, unassuming Colton with ease. There is a bit of a strain, though, when Lesiuk’s character begins to embrace his more sinister side, but the script is more at fault here than Lesiuk. Lesiuk’s performance during his final scene will have audience members abuzz in the lobby afterwards.

Ryan Gray’s Beneath The Skin is a thrilling piece of work that leaves an impression on any who dare step into the darkness.

Ryan Gray’s Beneath The Skin runs July 22 – July 28 at the Motel Theatre as part of the Common Ground Festival. The full festival runs until Aug 1st.

For more information about the Common Ground Festival, visit: http://www.commongroundyyc.com/

Tuplin Gets Personal With Dis/Connected

Melissa Tuplin's Dis/Connected was presented by Sage Theatre's Ignite! Festival. Image provided by Sage Theatre.

Melissa Tuplin’s Dis/Connected was presented by Sage Theatre’s Ignite! Festival. Image provided by Sage Theatre.

In our daily lives, do we exhibit the true self, that which is grounded in our personal convictions, or a false self, an image built upon expectation? For Melissa Tuplin, the former is a desire, while the latter is reality.  And so, she asks, if our identities exist outside ourselves, then what does that leave us with?

Presented by Sage Theatre’s Ignite! Festival, Tuplin’s latest solo piece Dis/Connected explores the complex relationship between who we are and how we want to be seen.

The lyrics “what is wrong with me?” repeat. It is a persistent echo of the mind. Nothing, Tuplin responds by baring herself to us. Yet, despite her confidence, there are small glimpses of hesitation that reveal themselves. But the desire to be happy, to be sincere and at peace with oneself is overwhelming. The dancer’s movements slice the air with vigor as she strives to resuscitate a connection lost too long ago.

In an act of defiance, Tuplin crosses the threshold and walks out into the audience. A determined look meets our curious gaze, until finally she takes a seat. No more is she an image.

Tuplin’s Dis/Connected is at once introspective and bold. Tuplin’s intimate examination of self-expression versus self-censorship excites with its vulnerability.

Melissa Tuplin’s solo piece Dis/Connected was presented by Sage Theatre’s 2015 Ignite! Festival. The festival ran June 18 – 20 inside The Studio at Vertigo Theatre.

A full recording of Tuplin’s Dis/Connected is available here: http://dancingmonkeylab.com/2015/06/14/disconnected-a-new-solo-work-by-melissa-tuplin/

For more information about Melissa Tuplin, visit: http://www.melissatuplin.com/


MacAlpine’s Polonius and His Children Delivers Intense Family Drama

Anna MacAlpine's Polonius and Children ran as part of Sage Theatre's 2015 Ignite! Festival. Pictured: John McIver (Polonius) and Brianna Johnston (Ophelia). Imaged provided by Sage Theatre.

Anna MacAlpine’s Polonius and Children ran as part of Sage Theatre’s 2015 Ignite! Festival. Pictured: John McIver (Polonius) and Brianna Johnston (Ophelia). Imaged provided by Sage Theatre.

One hopes that the dead find peace in the afterlife; some respite from their mortal pains. That is, after all, the promise of death: an ultimate end. But what if, what if the dead are no different than those who roam the earth, burdened by secrets and regret?

Anna MacAlpine’s Polonius and His Children imagines a reunion between the titular character (John McIver) and his children – Ophelia (Brianna Johnston) and Laertes (Greg Wilson) – in the afterlife. The reunion is, unfortunately, not a happy one as the characters, the very same from William Shakespeare’s Hamlet, meet only to confront each other on unresolved issues. Among them is an unseen, mischievous spirit of the void (Amy Sawka) who narrates the drama.

Ophelia is the first to meet Polonius. Upon seeing her soaked dress, Polonius, whose stab wounds have not healed, asks who drowned her. Ophelia’s response is, very fortunately, interrupted by Laertes’ entrance into the void. Quickly, Ophelia and Laertes find that their father, despite an eternity for reflection, is the same old fool he was when they were alive.

While Polonius’ children both assert themselves against their father, it is Ophelia who struggles most to have her independence recognized. Even in this hellish landscape, Polonius and Laertes continue to dominate Ophelia’s life. They speak so much over Ophelia that she is never given the chance to explain herself. In fact, MacAlpine argues, Ophelia has never been allowed to explain herself.

Here, MacAlpine examines through a feminist lens the works of art inspired by Ophelia’s death. MacAlpine does so by envisioning what Ophelia would say about the artists who, over the years, have portrayed her as a virginal beauty who died a ‘beautiful death’. It was not beautiful, Ophelia says, it was painful. And why is there, she asks, such importance placed on virginity? How does that make a death beautiful in any way? Ophelia’s soliloquy is replete with anger, frustration at the narratives imposed upon her exploited body.

Along the way, MacAlpine infuses humour into the play in the way of clever references to the source material. The playwright, too, has fun with the characters whom she has written with her own flavour. Although, while the humour works in some areas, the humour feels out of place and at odds with the play’s overall brooding tone.

In terms of performances, the ensemble is strong. Sawka is very physical and light on her feet. Her playfulness never upstages the main action. McIver plays Polonius brilliantly. McIver’s mannerisms signal a Polonius who has lived one life too many; an old man unable to find rest. Johnston and Wilson do well as Ophelia and Laertes. Wilson’s casual demeanor mixed with his solid delivery attracts big laughs from the audience. Johnston nails the soliloquy given to her, she is truly in synch with her character.

MacAlpine’s Polonius and His Children is a smart, poignant drama that intrigues with its troubled characters and urgent themes.

Anna MacAlpine’s Polonius and His Children was presented by Sage Theatre’s 2015 Ignite! Festival. The festival ran June 18-20 at The Studio inside Vertigo Theatre.

Dancers’ Studio West Invites Emerging Artists to LEAP

Sylvie Moquin and Dario Charles with Davida Monk, after rehearsal.

Dancers’ Studio West Artistic Director Davida Monk with emerging artists Sylvie Moquin and Dario Charles, after rehearsal in the studio.

Two years ago, Dancers’ Studio West made the decision to leave its theatre space, located in Sunalta. The company would instead operate remotely, renting both rehearsal and performance spaces, for its 2014-15 season. The decision was a difficult, but necessary one, says Artistic Director Davida Monk.

“The question of the DSW theatre space was a very difficult one for the board to resolve because the company had been there for 15 years,” said Monk. “Before that, it had been in a brewery over in the Inglewood area. In both cases, there was a theatre associated with the company. Productions and regular season events for the company were there, but not enough to really fill the theatre all the time.”

With the costs associated with the theatre unsustainable, DSW moved out of the space. (Presently, the space is shared between Calgary Young People’s Theatre, Ghost River Theatre, and Green Fools Theatre Society).

But ultimately, it’s not the space Monk is concerned about, it’s the artists.

“[We wanted] to channel what resources we did have into something that is effective for the development of the art form. If you ask me, it’s a lot more effective to put that into people than it is to put into a space.”

Founded in 1980, DSW nurtures contemporary dance artists through artist-focused programming. Two of the company’s major production programs are the Annual Alberta Dance Festival and the Dance Action Lab, a 10 week creative intensive that culminates in a full production.

This season, as part of the Dance Action Lab, DSW has invited Sylvie Moquin and Dario Charles to participate in the company’s Lab Emerging Artists Program (LEAP). Funded by The Royal Bank of Canada’s Emerging Artists Project, LEAP offers pre-professional dance artists exposure to professional practices, and the rigours of professional rehearsal and contemporary dance performance.

Originally from Ottawa, Ontario, Moquin is a graduate of Ryerson University where she received her BFA in Performance Dance.

“I’ve been here almost two years now,” said Moquin who left for Calgary shortly after graduation. “The first year I came, I did [Decidely Jazz Danceworks’] Professional Training Program. And I immediately found something that I really liked about Calgary, and specifically the dance community. I don’t know if I can pinpoint – I think it’s the idea of how welcoming this community is and how much people are excited about new artists and young emerging artists such as myself.”

“I was looking for an opportunity of where I was going, to find my voice and where I fit, and [LEAP] fell at the exact right time.”

Charles, an Edmonton-based dance artist, studied at The School of Toronto Dance Theatre. He then later completed a five month international dance program in Israel with Vertigo Dance Company. Since returning to Edmonton, Charles has worked with emerging companies and artists like himself.

“This application came up and I just thought…it would be great to be a part of [DSW], because most things I’ve done have been with starting out companies or people starting out,” said Charles. “[LEAP] appealed to me for the sake of an emerging artist being able to work with professionals. I think there’s tons to learn with emerging artists, but also with this other group as well.”

DSW’s Dance Action Group form the artistic core of the Dance Action Lab. A diverse ensemble of choreographers/performers, the DAG includes DJD company members Catherine Hayward and Shayne Johnson, MoMo Dance Theatre’s Artistic Director Mark Ikeda, and independent dance artists Deanne Walsh, Kate Stashko, and Helen Husak. The group is led under Monk’s direction.

Since April, Moquin and Charles have not only rehearsed, but also trained daily in technique classes with the professional ensemble. The dancers’ day starts at 9:30am with open classes that are run by Monk.

“The ensemble creating together have a technical beginning to the day,” said Monk. “Their bodies warm up and refresh the basic principles that will support the body through various rehearsals and repetitions. We’re trying to bring a balance and a strength and a fluidity to the body so that when we’re in rehearsal, we don’t get injured. We can sustain and repeat and be strong. Class is intended for that purpose.”

When class ends at 11:30am, the dancers take a short break, then rehearse until 3:00pm in their respective sections.

“We got to be involved in the creation process right away from week one, even pieces we weren’t cast in.” said Moquin. “We’re part of it. We’re part of what is this about, what can we try, where can we go with this, what is the potential of every single idea.”

“We go into some unknown places,” added Charles. “We’re working with choreographers who are treading deep waters. It’s all questions.”

And though there may be a lot to take in, Moquin says she is committed to taking away as much as she can from the experience.

“I’m…taking in every bit of information I can from these amazing artists,” said Moquin. “I take a lot of notes, and sometimes I just feel like I need to run to my notebook and write something down, because [something they said] really just struck and you need to hold onto that.”

Retaining these concepts and exercises is important, says Charles, because dancers must be multi-skilled (e.g. teaching, choreographing, performing).

Moquin and Charles are also gaining valuable insights outside their studio rehearsals.

On May 11th, DSW invited the public to an informal showing of the Dance Action Lab’s works-in-progress.

“It was informal, so we were willing to try things,” said Charles about the showing. “There were times where we would stop and do it again…I think it’s really important to able to talk about the work with the audience and get them involved in it.”

“I think it was great to have that dialogue with a new viewer,” said Moquin. “We’ve all been working and seeing these ideas together. As soon as you have someone new looking at it, it shifts the way you or the choreographer sees it.”

“Often times, I think you create work, then you mount it…and get all this feedback and dialogue afterwards,” Moquin continued. “And it’s like, I want to keep going with that! We’ve added that stage midway, so that the choreographers have that chance to take it in.”

Later this month, DSW will formally present Mythbehavin’, four new works produced by the Dance Action Lab.

“They’re all based in myth in some way or another,” said Monk about the works. “The choreographers determined that we would find a theme that we can all spring something from. The aspects are all very different, the ways the choreographers are responding are different. In some cases, it’s the interpretation of the myth, Jungian archetypes for example. In other cases, it’s more looking at the gods.”

“I think there’s excitement within the community,” said Moquin about the show. “I know other dancers are excited to see what’s going to happen, because this is such a diverse, dynamic group.”

Then, upon completing what were a rigorous 10 weeks, Moquin and Charles’ time with DSW will be over.

“Wouldn’t it be nice if it were 12 weeks, three months?” asked Monk. “This kind of experience is so valuable that the way you improve it is to lengthen it.”

Unfortunately, Monk says, a lack of political representation for the arts and, as a result, insufficient funding makes such an extension difficult.

“There is no person in political authority to speak and represent the arts publicly [in Alberta], to even lead the public towards a well understood policy of support for the arts,” said Monk. “We’re a long way away from that.”

That means dancers feel they need to look elsewhere for work, says Charles.

“There are no artists that stay here,” said Charles. “There’s a few professional training programs in Calgary, but there’s none in Edmonton, so everyone leaves because they think they’re going to get more work elsewhere. So, it’s a hard time growing a community here in Alberta.”

How DSW and other organizations can make a difference, says Monk, is by supporting those who choose to stay here. But, she adds, these organizations have just enough resources to operate as it is.

“I hate to sound like a broken record, but more money would be nice,” said Monk. “These two young people are getting experience here and they’re getting paid, but it’s a tip. They’re not really getting paid. That’s good in some ways, but not in other ways because it’s really limiting. It would be nice to have a larger pot to draw funds from. We’ve been very successful – I think this is our 4th year being able to access those funds, but they don’t go very far.”

“In the meantime, you do what you can. You pour everything into the opportunities.”

Dancers’ Studio West’s Mythbehavin’ runs June 25 – 27 at the Victor Mitchell Theatre (Pumphouse Theatres).

For tickets, visit: http://www.brownpapertickets.com/event/1626771

For more information about Dancers’ Studio West, visit: http://www.dswlive.ca/